Mendelssohn in Birmingham, Vol 3 - Gardner
Chandos CHSA 5151
Classical - Vocal
Mendelssohn: Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt, Op. 27 (Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage); Symphony No. 2 "Lobgesang" (Hymn of Praise)
Sophie Bevan, soprano I
Mary Bevan, soprano II
Benjamin Hulett, tenor
Julian Wilkins, organ
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
This is the third recording in our Mendelssohn in Birmingham series, with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and its Principal Guest Conductor, Edward Gardner. The album features Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage (Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt) and Symphony No. 2, completing our survey of Mendelssohn’s mature symphonies.
Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage is the second in a trilogy of concert overtures by Mendelssohn, the two others being A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Hebrides, the latter recorded on Vol. 1 in this Chandos series. Based on two poems by Goethe these sonorous images describe a ship helplessly becalmed in the open sea, then carried by rising winds towards land. The densely textured, immensely slow opening evocation of oceanic calm and the following quickening full-orchestral crescendo strikingly depict Goethe’s verses.
Symphony No. 2 was valued as one of Mendelssohn’s greatest and most influential achievement for much of the nineteenth century – not least in Britain – but it has since come to be viewed equivocally. A fusion of neo-baroque procedures with romantic sentiment provides the backdrop of this hybrid Symphony-Cantata, made up of three orchestral movements and a choral finale, in which smooth contrapuntal arias contrast with exuberant, dramatic choral sections. The soloists are all emerging young artists in Britain, the wonderfully talented soprano sisters Mary and Sophie Bevan and the tenor Benjamin Hulett.
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Recorded 15 and 16 February 2014 at the Town Hall, Birmingham, United Kingdom, 24/96
Recording producer: Brian Pidgeon
Sound engineer: Ralph Couzens
Assistant engineer and editor: Jonathan Cooper
A&R administrator: Sue Shortridge
Microphones: Thuresson CM 402 (main sound); Schoeps MK22, MK4 and MK6; DPA 4006 & 4011; Neumann U89
CM 402 microphones are hand built by the designer, Jörgen Thuresson, in Sweden
This recording is supported using public funding by Arts Council England
Review by Graham Williams - February 5, 2015
Edward Gardner's fine survey of the Mendelssohn Symphonies reaches its conclusion with this impressive performance of the Symphony No. 2 'Hymn of Praise' that, in order of composition, is the composer's penultimate symphony. As with the two earlier issues the coupling is a Mendelssohn Overture, in this case 'Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage'.
Gardner and the CBSO give a lovely account of this entrancing overture conveying the tranquillity and stillness of the composer's opening seascape with the utmost sensitivity. The sudden change of mood to one of elation, heralded by the woodwind, is perfectly judged, and the vigour with which the conductor drives the piece to its joyful conclusion is most exhilarating. The two sections of the overture are assigned separate tracks on this disc.
Mendelssohn aptly designated his 2nd Symphony a 'Symphony-Cantata', and the purely orchestral three-movement Sinfonia that opens the work contains some of the composer's finest writing.
Gardner's propulsive approach is again evident here, though it never sounds rushed and allows for much felicitous playing from the CBSO. At this point it should be noted that as this Chandos series is entitled 'Mendelssohn in Birmingham' the cantata section of the symphony is sung in English, not German, in the rather free translation by J Alfred Novello (1810-1896) – so definitely 'Hymn of Praise' not 'Lobgesang'.
The solo soprano parts are sung by the sisters Sophie and Mary Bevan. The former sounds rather forced in 'Praise thou the Lord, O my spirit' (Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele) and it is delivered with surprisingly poor diction, but the duet with her sister 'I waited for the Lord' (Ich harrete des Herrn) is clear and mellifluous. The sweet-voiced tenor soloist Benjamin Hulett is really excellent. His enunciation could hardly be bettered whilst his considerable operatic experience allows him to make the most of the dramatic recitatives and cries of 'Watchman will the night soon pass?' (Hütter ist die Nacht bald hin?). His duet with Sophie Bevan is a further example of the elegance of his singing.
The excellent CBSO chorus trained by Julian Wilkins sing with commendable attack and enthusiasm though occasionally the clarity of their words is compromised by the acoustic. Wilkins also plays the impressively room-shaking organ that makes its appearance in the latter sections of the symphony.
The recordings were made in the ample and pleasingly reverberant acoustic of Birmingham Town Hall (February 2014) by the reliable team of Brian Pidgeon (producer) and Ralph Couzens (engineer) who have balanced orchestra, soloists and chorus with remarkable skill. The sound is clean with vivid winds and crisp timpani, though the acoustic of the venue possibly renders the strings in a less favourable light when playing forte or above.
There is a wide choice of recorded versions of this Symphony on disc to suit all tastes including, at the time of writing, eight on SACD; but those who have acquired the first two volumes in Gardner's Mendelssohn series will be more than satisfied with this one.
Copyright © 2015 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net